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Looking for ah-ha: Teachers of the year follow calling to make a difference

A classroom empty of furniture and desks did not prevent Morgantown Elementary teacher Shamekia Isaac from teaching on the last day of school. Frequently Isaac asks her student to get up from their desks to demonstrate math concepts. Isaac and her students, above, use their bodies to demonstrate the difference between obtuse, straight and acute angles. Isaac ‘s class also used line dancing to help the student learn about x and y coordinates. Isaac was named the Natchez-Adams School District teacher of the year. (Photo by Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)


NATCHEZ — Children are always watching, Morgantown Elementary School Shamekia Isaac knows.

West Primary kindergarten teacher Geraldine Brown, below, teaches Tavia Morris how to blow a goodbye kiss on the last day of school. (Photo by Ben Hillyer \ The Natchcez Democrat)

And knowing that her students are like little sponges drives Isaac to be the person, not just the teacher, she wants her students at Morgantown Elementary School to soak up as an influence both in and out the classroom.

“(Students) pay attention to everything — our mannerisms, the way we dress, the company we keep,” Isaac said.

That’s why when she supports her students off the clock from the sidelines at ball games they know she loves them, even when she scolds them for not trying their best in the classroom.

“I don’t have any children of my own, so these are my babies,” said Isaac, who has been teaching at Morgantown for seven years.

Isaac, a 1996 graduate of Natchez High School, was recently named the Natchez-Adams School District’s district-wide teacher of the year.

Isaac said it is the malleability of children’s character and minds that attracts her to teaching.

Adults get stuck in their ways, and there’s no changing a grown-up’s mind, Isaac said. Children, on the other hand, are still impressionable, she said.

“(My students) start out thinking they know everything, and the joy comes in when I’m showing them that (they) still have so much to learn,” Isaac said.

Children aren’t robots, Isaac said, so it’s important to form relationships with them in order to reach them as individuals.

Frazier Primary teahcer Ramona Batieste reads to her class. Batieste was named Frazier's teacher of the year. (Photo by Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

That investment makes getting through to her students even more rewarding, she said.

“It’s those ah-ha moments,” she said, spoken like Natchez’s own Oprah Winfrey.

Isaac, who graduated from University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in psychoogy, said she didn’t always know she wanted to be a teacher. Isaac said she had an epiphany one day while driving to court for an office job she had after college in Austin, Texas. She realized he wasn’t fulfilled; so she moved back home and looked toward her own role models as a guide for her future.

At Natchez High, it was teacher Hiawatha Northington who made an impact on her.

“I still look at what (Northington wrote) to me in my yearbook,” Isaac said.

And Isaac’s ninth-grade English teacher Patricia West was another big influence, she said.

“She inspired my love for words and the English language,” Isaac said.

Isaac said those teachers came to school with a purpose, and failure was not an option. And Isaac looks at teaching students today as an opportunity to give back in the same community where she was reared.

“(My purpose) is to influence somebody greater than I can imagine, because somebody did that for me,” Isaac said.

Eight years following her epiphany, Isaac said can’t see herself in any other career, despite her apparent smarts and communication skills.

“I find myself not knowing if there is anything else I could possibly do,” Isaac said, between hugs around the neck from her students.

Six other teachers were also recognized recently as teacher of the year in their respective schools as part of the annual NASD awards.

Geraldine Brown, West Primary School

Kenethia Doss was named teacher of the year at McLaurin Elementary School. (Photo by Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)

Brown has 34 years of teaching under her belt but has never tired of the opportunity to watch children grow and learn in front of her eyes.

Teaching kindergarten, Brown said, means she fills the role of whatever that child needs.

“They may call you mother or grandmother, and you have to be whoever they need you to be,” Brown said.

And like Isaac, Brown senses the intuition of children.

“They know whether (their teacher) is just someone in the classroom or someone who loves the joy of teaching,” Brown said.

Ramona Batieste — Frazier Primary School

Ramona Batieste, who has been teaching seven years, said watching the light come on when her students grasp a concept makes it worth all the difficult tantrums.

“To know that you have taught them something, that makes every teacher feel good,” Batieste said.

Just because her students are in first grade doesn’t mean she cuts them too many breaks about sticking to a schedule.

Batieste said especially at a young age, she finds consistency is the key to teaching.

“I tell them I’m just like your mom at home, Batieste said. “She fusses, but she still loves you.”

Kenethia Doss, McLaurin Elementary School

Kenethia Doss has been teaching for 11 years, with seven of those years at McLaurin Elementary School.

Doss said she was working on her master’s degree in business when she taught as a substitute at Robert Lewis Middle School. It was at t

Bobby Holder is a U.S. History teacher at Natchez High School, and was chosen as the Natchez High School Teacher of the Year. (Photo by Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

he part-time job that she learned she loved to teach, and now she uses her bachelor’s degree in accounting to teach math to elementary students.

“I think it’s my calling,” Doss said.

Doss said the trick to reaching students is catering to their individuality.

“If they’re having a bad day, I try to work with them; I have bad days too,” she said. “I pull them aside and cry with them, laugh with them or let them know we’re going to do what we have to do to push on.”

Bobby Holder, Natchez High School

Bobby Holder, a NASD fixture, has been teaching for approximately 30 years, with 15-20 years spent in the district. His former students include some of his co-workers as well as his boss, Principal Cleveland Moore.

Holder said he tries to be fair, understanding, and above all, consistent.

“The first week (of school, students) know what’s expected of them,” Holder said.

Holder said if a student wants success in his class, he will help him or her attain it.

Velma Anderson, center, works with special education students at Central Alternative school. Anderson is teacher of the year at Central. (Photo by Ben Hillyer \ The Natchez Democrat)

While routine may be falling out of fashion with today’s children, Holder said he thinks consistency is an important part of learning.

“I don’t like the term old school, but the kids do take a while to get used to routine,” Holder said.

Velma Anderson, Central Alternative School

Velma Anderson has been teaching for 27 years with the last five years spent teaching special education.

Anderson said she believes that especially when it comes to special education, teaching is a calling.

“I love making a difference in the life of a child,” Anderson said.

And in her position she has an opportunity to make a difference in a number of ways.

“(Students with special needs) are already faced with so many challenges as an individual, so many times I am a role model, a second parent or a counselor,” Anderson said.

Anderson said it’s important to her to contact parents not only when students misbehave in class or have trouble but when they accomplish something good.

Lyvette Banks helps students take blood pressure readings during one of her Allied Health classes Thursday morning. Banks was chosen as the Fallin Career and Tech Center Teacher of the Year. (Photo by Lauren Wood / The Natchez Democrat)

“A much as I teach my students, I also learn from them,” Anderson said.

Lyvette Banks, Fallin Career and Technology Center

Though Lyvette Banks is a registered nurse, she has taught in the school district for 16 years. This past year she taught students some real-world skills in Allied Health II and Health Science classes.

“I love working with students, and I enjoy watching them grow,” Banks said.

Banks said communication skills help her reach students, with a special emphasis on listening.

Seeing her former students in their respective health careers, and knowing that she helped them explore that option early on in their life brings her much happiness, she said.

“One of my (former) students…every time I go to Natchez Regional (Medical Center)…it just brings joy, just to see him,” Banks said.